Analysis of process thinking

This is a post in my organizing “between and beyond” series. Other posts are here. The purpose of this post is to analyze different process perspectives. The analysis is summarized here.

Three process perspectives are analyzed here: The view of processes as (1) input, guiding actions, (2) an outcome of people’s thinking and behavior, and (3) constitutive of the world.

(1) The CMM, PSP, and TSP are all based on process thinking. Here is my analysis. The idea is that a mature organization has the ability to manage its processes. A mature organization accurately communicates the processes to the staff, and carries out work activities according to the processes.1 The processes are documented, and process definitions are updated when necessary.2 Roles and responsibilities within the processes are clear throughout the organization.3. In other words, processes are viewed as input, guiding the work.

(2) An alternative view is to view processes as outcome, or output. An example is the Japanese kata (noun), which I have written about here. A kata is a means for keeping your thoughts and actions in sync with dynamic and unpredictable conditions.2 A kata doesn’t specify content, but only the form that thinking should take.3

(3) A third process perspective is the process theory which Tor Hernes introduces in his book.4 Here is my review of Hernes’ book. Process theory views organizing as attempts at stabilization in a continually changing world.5 This process thinking sees the organization as becoming as opposed to being.6 Strategy is, for example, seen as wayfinding rather than goal finding.7 There’s also a distinction between action and act. An act is a completed set of actions.8 Action is not directed towards meaning, but activates that particular meaning.9 Actors act in certain ways in the flow of time because it is meaningful.10 Actors experience flow in action.11 This process view also argues that the world exhibits not just actuality but potentiality.12 Process thinking is a way to capture the ongoing emergent nature of organizational life.13

Tor Hernes’ attempt at theorizing organization is based on the assumption that process is constitutive of the world. He uses a vocabulary derived from process philosophy. Hernes regards any attempts at stabilizing the connecting between actors as acts of organizing. He wants to understand how actors in the making interact in time and space.14

Watts Humphrey, drawing on years of experience at IBM and the SEI, assumes that understanding and managing processes provide the best opportunity for organizational improvement. Humphrey’s original objective with the CMM was to build disciplined and motivated teams that consistently and predictably produce high quality products.15 Humphrey developed the PSP to show how to apply the principles of CMM level 5 in personal work,16 and he developed the TSP to help teams to consistently use the PSP.17

Incompatibilities are examined for the sake of understanding. It doesn’t mean that an approach is wrong, but that it is a limiting case. An example, Newtonian mechanics isn’t wrong, but is a limiting case of relativity theory. Similarly, I believe that the process thinking in the CMM is a limiting case of Hernes’ process theorizing.

Watts Humphrey’s notion of process is limited in relation to Tor Hernes’ notion of process. Humphrey sees, for example, defined processes as something which is repeatable and predictable, while Hernes sees dynamic ongoing processes in organizational life. Both Hernes and Humphrey want to understand. Humphrey, in addition, wants to manage the processes. This is possible in the limiting case when the process is defined and is under statistic process control.

Process theory (Hernes) transcends the views of processes as input (CMM) and processes as output (kata). Process theory captures the emergent nature of organizational life while defined processes (CMM), per definition, are rather static. The expectation is that process definitions are updated when necessary, but this is a slow process since documented processes need to be changed, and the changes need to be communicated. In other words, such organizing is not, by its nature, very adaptive. A kata, as a way of thinking, is more adaptive, and fundamental. It generates different actions depending on dynamic conditions.

Process theory sees order as arising from flow, and not vice versa. This is very different from the perspective of Bohm & Peat, who see order as generative.18 Process theory (Hernes) is, in this perspective, a limiting case of a deeper generative order for organizing. In other words, order arises from flow, but flow arises from a deeper order. Active information,19 rather than process, is constitutive of the world.

1 Mark C. Paulk, Charles V. Weber, Bill Curtis, Mary Beth Chrissis (principal contributors and editors), The Capability Mature Model: Guidelines for Improving the Software Process (Addison Wesley, 9th printing 1998), p. 7.
2 Mike Rother, Toyota Kata: Managing People for Improvement, Adaptiveness and Superior Results (McGraw-Hill, 2010), p. 16.
3 Ibid., p. 19.
4 Tor Hernes, A Process Theory of Organization (Oxford University Press, 2014).
5 Ibid., p. 39.
6 Ibid., p. 40.
7 Ibid., p. 55.
8 Ibid..
9 Ibid., p. 56.
10 Ibid..
11 Ibid..
12 Ibid., p. 66.
13 Ibid..
14 Tor Hernes, A Process Theory of Organization (Oxford University Press, 2014), p. vii.
15 Watts S. Humphrey, Three Process Perspectives: Organizations, teams, and People (Kluwer Academic Publishers, Annals of Software Engineering 14, 2002), p. 52.
16 Ibid., p. 54.
17 Ibid., pp. 59–60.
18 The generative order is primarily concerned with a deeper order out of which the manifest form of things can emerge creatively. David Bohm, F. David Peat, Science, Order, and Creativity (Ruthledge, 2010, first published 1987), pp. 80, 148, 154–157, 216, 286–287.
19 The notion of active information is important in explaining the ideas of generative order. Ibid., pp. 80, 84–86.

Related posts:
Organizing in between and beyond posts

Published by Jan Höglund

Jan Höglund has over 35 years of experience in different roles as software developer, project manager, line manager, consultant, and researcher. He shares his reading, book reviews, and learning on his personal blog.

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